The proof is in the prose: Schopenhauer’s limpid thoughts are a pleasure to read even for those lacking formal philosophical training.
As with all true philosophers, his starting point is appalled astonishment at that elephant in every conceivable room, “the problem of existence” itself.
When German philosophers were entrenched in the universities and immersed in the theological concerns of the time, Schopenhauer was an atheist who stayed outside the academic profession.
Schopenhauer’s lack of recognition during most of his lifetime may have been due to the iconoclasm of his thought, but it was probably also partly due to his irascible and stubborn temperament.
Schopenhauer argued that behind the world of appearances lies a unified reality which he calls “will”.
The painful realm in which we fleetingly find ourselves alive is the ceaseless tumult of this blind and insatiable will.Nightmare metaphysics aside, there are misanthropic observations on psychology, religion, aesthetics and writing.Take this aperçu, as relevant in today’s book pages as it was in 19th-century Germany: “The art of not reading is a very important one. Rereading him after a decade, I realised that such essays as had helped dissuade my younger self from nurturing an excessive fear of death.Schopenhauer despised writers who conceal shallow minds behind a veil of unintelligible language: if a writer is profound, he will seek the clearest possible expression of his ideas.Schopenhauer was the philosopher who wrote of the immense importance of sex in all human endeavors and he was much copied by Freud.Many romantic love songs are as pessimistic as Schopenhauer and they can be the most enjoyable and comforting.In the history of ideas, the name Arthur Schopenhauer is indelibly linked with philosophical pessimism.True enough, Schopenhauer’s vision of existence is unflinchingly tragic: “For the world is Hell, and men are on the one hand the tormented souls and on the other the devils in it.” And yet, his synthesis of western philosophy with Hindu and Buddhist metaphysics offers not only ethical guidance, but even solace and redemption.My thoughts about Schopenhauers view of women are not inconsistent with my behavior as the caregiver to my wife for decades and more decades to come.Schopenhauers views are obviously dated and he is more than incorrect on some points but it is an honest and knowledgeable pessimism that prepares us for the vicissitudes of life.